Deep Red

English Title: Deep Red

Original Title: Profondo rosso

Country of Origin: Italy

Studio: Seda Spettacoli

Director: Dario Argento

Producer(s): Claudio Argento

Screenplay: Dario Argento, Bernardino Zapponi

Cinematographer: Luigi Kuveiller

Art Director: Giuseppe Bassan

Editor: Franco Fraticelli

Runtime: 130 minutes

Genre: Giallo

Starring/Cast: Clara Calamai, Daria Nicolodi, David Hemmings, Gabriele Lavia

Year: 1975

Volume: Italian

At a conference discussing the subject of parapsychology, celebrated psychic Helga Ulmann is deeply disturbed when she realizes that the audience she is addressing contains a murderer. Deeply frightened, she informs a fellow guest, Professor Giordani, that she will communicate to him the identity of the killer the next day. That night, Marc Daley, an English pianist living in Rome, is spending time with his inebriated friend Carlo in the square outside his house when he witnesses a horrific sight: Helga Ulmann being bloodily dispatched at her window. Marc rushes to her aid, but by the time he reaches her apartment, her life has ebbed away. Marc is subsequently obliged to fend off the attentions of the police and an aggressive reporter, Gianna Brezzi. But later, he realizes that there is a detail fixed in his mind - something he saw in the dead psychic’s hallway. Unwisely, he initiates his own investigation into the killing, and begins to get closer and closer to an utterly ruthless psychopath. At the same time, the killer is implacably (and imaginatively) murdering anyone who might possibly reveal their well-concealed identity.

While a case might be made for Suspiria (1977) as the Argento film that offers a total sensory immersion via its thoroughgoing utilization of poster-colour visuals and high-decibel aural effects, in terms of structure, Profondo Rosso is unquestionably his most fully realized work, rigorously detailed and showing an attention to narrative that is largely absent from most of the director’s haphazard scenarios. Of course, the presence of the understated English actor David Hemmings in the cast is salutary: he comes carrying (as the film-savvy Argento is fully aware) the baggage of his appearance in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966), and in many ways his character here cannily reprizes elements of the earlier film, with its existential whodunnit structure. Hemmings’ character in the Argento film is much more motivated (and single-minded) than the aimless, alienated photographer of the earlier movie; Argento is far less interested in fashioning a vision of an alienated, hedonistic society than in demonstrating his virtuoso mastery of the language of cinema, and uses Hemmings as a shorthand image of the accidentally-involved onlooker.  But (despite not having a great deal of material to work with) Hemmings grants the character a genuine verisimilitude, using the most economical means. Profondo Rosso is, however, every inch an Argento movie, and in no other film in the director’s oeuvre are his visual pyrotechnics used to such exhilarating effect. It is obvious that the director’s real interests lie in the heady, sensuous exploration of baroque architecture in front of which his characters are gorily dispatched. Hemmings, with the ambiguous aid of a young newswoman (played by the director’s then-partner, Daria Nicolodi), threads his hesitant way through several menacing expressionist settings before, inevitably, confronting the deranged killer (a logically motivated character rather than the arbitrary figures thrown up in so many gialli). The gruesome murders along the way are imaginatively mounted – the death-by-boiling-water sequence is particularly unsettling, even when viewed in the 21st centry, when ultra-violent death in film is commonplace. Several frissons are provided by the effects created by a pre-E.T. (Steven Spielberg, 1982) Carlo Rambaldi – the most shocking being decapitation by a combination of necklace and moving lift. From the credits onwards, the surface of the movie glitters with a sinister iridescence. As so often in Argento's work (and in that of most of his contemporaries), the underlying sexual politics of the film are not notably enlightened, but viewers who can put any notions of policetical correctness in abeyance for 100 minutes or so will find themselves transported by this most fully achieved work from a deeply inconsistent director.

Author of this review: Barry Forshaw